Saturday, 29 December 2012



We have now come to the end of one of the wettest years in living memory. To make matters worse, it came after a previous run of five very wet years. In fact as I look out my window onto a very soggy garden the rain is still falling. However life is usually well balanced over the long term, so hopefully 2013 will be the start of the dry years, but I won’t bet on it. The year will be remembered as the year of the slug and snail and the losing battle against scab on fruit trees, botrytis on strawberries, black spot on roses and club root on all brassicas.
Allotment holders as well as farmers and growers all over the UK all suffered poor crops. However we do grow a diverse range of plants and some actually seemed to benefit. Blackcurrants gave me the best crop ever and leafy plants like lettuce, radish, spring onion, kale and Swiss chard all had a great year.

Clubroot was a major problem this year, so for 2013 I will be using Perlka, a nitrogenous fertiliser with a high lime content. I will also try several clubroot resistant brassicas, many of them bred at James Hutton Institute at Invergowrie. I will no longer use mustard as a green manure as it gets infected with clubroot. Clover is now my choice as it has a great root system and adds nitrogen to the soil when  its root nodules rot down.
A lot of losses occurred from plants raised from seed, as peat free composts are very prone to fungal diseases and rots. Numbers of French beans, broad beans, onions, cabbages and sweet corn were all reduced at germination and pricking out stages. Next year I must add more sand or grit to composts and give them a drench of Cheshunt Compound containing copper to prevent damping off.
I had no answer to the slug and snail plague, except double up pellet sprinkling, and do a lot of hand picking, though a very unpleasant task.

Strawberries were a disaster, rotting in huge numbers, except my early crop protected with tunnels.
Autumn raspberries were more like early winter rasps as they were so late and lacked any sweetness. Bramble Helen was reasonable, but saskatoons were late, though perfectly timed for our City Road allotment open day in August.  Some of the berries failed to ripen in mid August.
Gooseberries, red and Blackcurrants all had a great year, with plenty surplus now being brewed into fruit wines. Next year I will be trying the new large fruited blackcurrant Big Ben for eating off the bush rather than going for jam, compote and wine.
Plums failed to get pollinated so the tree was bare. Apples had a reduced crop but suffered scab and a lot of brown rot. Peaches got hand pollinated, but peach leaf curl destroyed a lot of foliage, so most of the fruit fell off before it could ripen.

Black spot was uncontrollable on roses, but they still put on a great display. Most other flowers were ok but early flowering chrysanthemums were anything but early. I was still picking them in late November. Sweet peas suffered a lot of losses and quality and size was miserable.
Hanging baskets were so poor with impatiens and petunias rotting off that I never bothered to hang them up. A lot of annuals sown direct into the ground failed to germinate.

Glasshouse crops
My tomatoes got off to a great start, but then it was downhill all the way. The flowers all fell off the first two trusses. After that it got a bit better till cold, wet, sunless days did nothing to cheer up the plants. By August I gave up and removed most of them replacing them with some early flowering chrysanthemums dug up from the allotment and some cape gooseberries. The latter just would not ripen, but I got a lovely bunch of early flowering chrysanthemums for my Christmas table.
I could tell you about my grapes, but I think you have had enough. Roll on 2013 when the rain is bound to go off, the sun will shine and we will all be complaining about the heat.
You have to dream, but it could happen. Best wishes to all my readers for 2013.

Plant of the week

Grape Brant is a very hardy outdoor grape that will fruit and ripen successfully in most years in Scotland. This wet year really tested its ability to ripen and although a month late and at least 50% reduction in crop from last year, I still managed to get enough from my one climber to produce a gallon of wine. It completely fermented out to a dry wine but it did get some assistance with a wee bit of sugar. Early tastings are very promising, but this one is destined for next Christmas.
The black grapes are small but very sweet and juicy. The bush has brilliant autumn colour.
It really needs a warm south facing wall or fence with ordinary soil, but very well drained. The base of a house is perfect as builders leave a lot of old broken bricks around the foundations that the vine roots can explore. Establish a permanent framework of stems about 12 to 18 inches apart, then every winter cut all the annual growth back to a couple of buds on the framework. In early summer after the bunches appear, cut off all the young shoots leaving two leaves beyond each bunch, then thereafter cut every young shoots back to one leaf. This will divert the plants energy into producing strong bunches rather than excessive growth.
Other outdoor varieties for this area are still being tried, but until we get some decent weather there are none to recommend.


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